Near-perfect day - Rams punter Jones shines
Saturday, November 20, 2010
It was pretty close to a perfect day for Donnie Jones.
The St. Louis Rams punter was used 10 times last weekend and the 49ers had zero return yards. His teammates took notice and Friday, players were given bright blue T-shirts that read: “Vote for Don Jones, Pro Bowl 2011.”
“That was pretty good,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo chuckled. “They’re having fun and that’s a good thing.”
Jones is fourth in the league in net average at 40.5 yards per kick. He’s No. 1 in downed punts (12) and tied for first in punts placed inside the 20-yard line (22).
Only 21 of Jones’ 52 punts have been returned and just three have resulted in touchbacks, both among the NFL’s best rankings headed into Sunday’s game against Atlanta (7-2).
Jones acknowledged he had a good day at San Francisco.
“All those fair catches, I’ll always take those,” Jones said. “We call that no shot on goal. If they can’t return it, they can’t hurt you.”
First, returner Ted Ginn did not return any of the 10 punts. Three of the 10 were placed inside the 20-yard line. Five ended up being fair catches. Two others went out of bounds. His net average was 43.7.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that,” kicker Kris Brown said. “He does a tremendous job for us.”
Spagnuolo said he values what Jones did in the 23-20 overtime loss to the 49ers that left the Rams at 4-5.
“I look at that as a real good defensive weapon right there,” Spagnuolo said. “When you can keep from the returner actually getting the ball and returning, that’s overlooked. Of course, we didn’t win the football game so some of those things go unnoticed, but our defense certainly appreciated him doing that.”
Jones wanted to spread the credit around.
“I’ve had some good games in the course of my career but this one stood out,” Jones said. “It wasn’t a real gaudy average or anything. I can only do so much. The snapper is important and Chris Massey is the best in the league at that. I’ve got to kick it well but the gunners on the outside have to do their jobs. It’s a collective effort.
“We put a lot of emphasis on special teams around here. At the end of the day, it’s 11 guys playing together to achieve one goal.”
The left-footed kicking Jones has played well despite a strain in his left calf. He got hurt late in the third game of the season against Washington.
“It’s still bothering me,” Jones said. “It’s a nagging injury. I get a shot before the game and take whatever pill they give me. That’s how I deal with it.”
To help the calf, Jones does not practice kicking during the week.
“I catch a lot grief for that, too,” Jones said. “They don’t think I do a lot anyway and now I’m not practicing. It comes with the position.”
In 2008, Jones became the first NFL punter to average at least 50 yards per punt since Sammy Baugh in 1940. He was voted second-team All-Pro and a first alternate to the Pro Bowl and again as an alternate last year.
Brown said the shirt was the idea of center Hank Fraley.
“They were all teasing Donnie one day about the Pro Bowl and how many he should have been there,” Brown said. “We started our own team balloting box. ... As funny as it is and as crazy as it is, it really brings the team together. It really works for us.”
It didn’t bother Jones at all.
“This stunt today with the T-shirts, I think the linemen were behind it, but there’s a lot of teasing that goes on in this place,” he said. “I’m behind a lot of it so it’s all in good fun. You can’t be serious all the time. This team works when it has to work and it has fun, too.”